Racist rugby still rankles

Siya Kolisi congratulates Ross Cronje for scoring a try at Newlands against the All Blacks. Photo: Phando Jikelo/ANA Pictures

The often accepted dictum is that history is written from the perspective of the victor and not the vanquished. In South African history this is not necessarily the case and we find in today’s democratic dispensation many areas of its inglorious past are still being trumpeted as the accepted majority historical narrative.

One such area is within the sporting context, especially in rugby, where the exclusionary history of South Africa’s past injustices are still today being held up as the true reflection of its total rugby history. Springbok rugby, before 1992, just as so many of the sporting codes in the country, was an exclusionary sport under Apartheid and could never be regarded of having been fully representative of the whole country’s population.

The pre-1992 Springboks were the sole preserve of the white community and did not represent the majority population (blacks) that played its rugby under SARU, the then non-racial South African component and which was a SACOS (South African Council on Sport) affiliate. Rugby unification only commenced after 1992. It would thus be factually correct to only recognise and put forward the Springbok history post 1992 as the true rugby history of a unified modern day democratic South Africa. All other international rugby representation by the Springboks before this date should not be held up as part of the truly South African rugby history.

A recent meeting between the SARU SACOS Legends (former non-racial players and administrators) and the current South African rugby authorities (SARU), this factually incorrect history was pointed out and discussed. The call was made on SARU to ensure that this incorrect rendition should be rectified in the public domain. The SARU position was in support of this, only recognition is afforded to the post-1992 Springbok history as the de facto representation of South African rugby.

In the entrance to the SARU offices in Plattekloof the post-1992 Springboks are only listed which gives credence to their position in this regard. Despite SARU’s official stance and acceptance of this it is still disconcerting to note that certain sections of the South African ‘mainstream’ media, commentators and sections of the rugby fraternity continue to convey the official position as that of SA rugby’s dubious pre-1992 past. The insistence by certain scribes and commentators flout the official SARU stance in continuously identifying the current Springbok captains as numbers 58 and 59 (pre-1992) instead of numbers 8 and 9 (post-1992).

This can be construed as a deliberate and crude attempt to whitewash the Springbok emblem of its Apartheid past of exclusionary and discriminatory practices through a dubious agenda. This situation has brought more pain on a still festering wound within the erstwhile non-racial rugby fold as they emphatically declare that they were duped in bending over backwards to make concessions in order to ensure South African rugby’s acceptance into the international arena. This, they believe, did not lead to a reciprocal response from those who played their rugby under the Apartheid regime (old order).

For the ‘old order’ the transition to democracy has been seamless and their continuous reminiscing of the glorious era of Springbok rugby under Apartheid is still indicative of their jingoist attitude and feels like a dagger in the heart of the non-racial fraternity. The trumpeting and constant refrain of the tainted pre-1992 Springbok history gives credence to the belief that there was never any intention of really making a paradigm shift in thinking and of including those who were excluded on the basis of race. This is further borne out by the ‘old order’ and its media contingent that still continuously exclaim that the current Springbok captains date before 1992 and not after 1992, a throwback to Springbok rugby’s dubious past.

Those who hail from the non-racial fold are now questioning the commitment they made to the unity process and feel that they were the only ones who made sacrifices, under Apartheid and again in the new democratic dispensation. They accepted the call by former President Nelson Mandela, who in his infinite wisdom sought to bring the two factions together in order to unite rugby under one regulating authority. Many now realise that the haste in these unity talks was just used as the stamp of approval to allow South Africa rugby the opportunity to play in the international arena again.

A quarter of a century later very little has changed for the former non-racial rugby fraternity. In hindsight it is now realised that it would have been better to disband all rugby structures in 1992 and restart afresh. International tours to and from South Africa should have been put on ice for a number of years until such time as the playing fields were levelled.

The years of deliberate under investment in disadvantaged communities, people and infrastructure by the former Apartheid regime left scars and the effects thereof should first have been eradicated.

In the haste to gain credibility and to be accepted back into the international rugby fold, many mistakes were made and too much credence given to the commitments and hollow promises of upliftment programmes. The only thing that the disadvantaged communities was afforded was the detested and stigmatised quota system. This patronising act bestowed upon non-racial rugby players was a throwback to the Apartheid mentality of paternalism, indicating that blacks did not really play rugby and had to be taught.

This notion was given further credence by a number of former white rugby players who uttered sentiments along similar lines despite archival proof and historical records which show that rugby was played by blacks since the 1800’s. It would thus not be so strange a phenomenon if a rethink on the Springbok emblem is mooted, for the current discourse does not bring into the equation its contentious history and which is alienating a vast majority of our population.

Sedick Crombie is the media and liaison officer for the Saru Sacos Legends